The Latest Cruise Travel Tips for Antarctica and the Arctic

Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic is giving agents a chance to win a 14-day “Journey to Antarctica” expedition.
Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic is giving agents a chance to win a 14-day “Journey to Antarctica” expedition.

Expedition vessels and larger cruise ships sail to Antarctica and the Arctic, carrying cruisers with an adventuresome spirit, an ecology bent and a desire for something different. “Arctic sailings focus on northern lights, Iceland, Greenland, seeing polar bears, narwhal and walrus,” says Sheri Mruz, Directions Luxury Travel LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network, Ocala, FL. These cruises also traverse the famed Northwest Passage atop Canada and the Northeast Passage atop Russia, plus the far reaches of northern Norway.

In contrast, “Antarctic sailings are focused on seeing penguins, whales and some climbing opportunities,” notes Mruz. Antarctica, unlike the Arctic, is also a continent with no indigenous people, just a few research stations. “Both regions have a heavy focus on wildlife, nature and environment and the sheer beauty of frontier areas.”

Here’s a sampling of cruises.

South to the Pole

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lars-Eric Lindblad’s first Antarctica expedition, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic is having a sales contest through April 30. The agent selling the most 2016 Europe 2.0, eight- or 15-day voyages, will receive the grand prize, a 14-day “Journey to Antarctica” expedition for two on the November 27 or December 7, 2016 or 2017 departures. Agents selling one or two voyages will be entered to win other diverse cruises. Winners will be revealed during Lindblad’s Antarctica travel advisor webinar on May 2, 2016. All agents selling a Europe 2.0 voyage before April 30, 2016 will receive a $500 American Express gift card.

Small-ship luxury operator Ponant operates multiple ships in Antarctica. Le Boreal’s 15-night “Great Austral Loop” and the 10-night “Best of the White Continent” voyages sail round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina. Just announced? The line will build four new ice-class ranked expedition ships, each with 92 staterooms; the new vessels will sail to exotic locales across the globe.

AdventureSmith Explorations offers southern polar voyages on the 132-guest M/V Expedition, which recently received a $10 million engine overhaul. That increased its speed so there’s less time crossing the Drake Passage and more time spent in Antarctica. Rates begin at $5,699 per person double for an 11-day Antarctic Peninsula Aboard Expedition (also called “Antarctica Classic”); kayaking ($999) and camping ($349) are optional add-ons. Oceanwide Expeditions offers a 20-day cruise to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, departing October 30 on the ice-strengthened Ortelius.

Guests can admire the Aurora Borealis from a Hurtigruten ship in Norway.
Guests can admire the Aurora Borealis from a Hurtigruten ship in Norway.

Hurtigruten is launching a hands-on, educational program for children traveling to Antarctica. The Young Explorers Program, available on Antarctica Discovery Style voyages aboard the Midnatsol between November 2016 and March 2017, is complimentary, and is best suited for ages 7-13. It was designed using the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) guidelines.

Non-expedition vessels also sail to Patagonia and Antarctica, including Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Quest, which departs Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 12, 2017, and ends in Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile. The pampering 21-day voyage starts at $15,999 per person double for a verandah suite.

Northern Exposure

The “Land of the Midnight Sun” is most popular in summer. During July and August, the ice retreats so vessels can sail farther northward. Winter brings frigid weather and darkness but also the colorful Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Hurtigruten sails both types of voyages. This summer, a “Circumnavigating the Realm of the Polar Bears” itinerary on Fram allows passengers to see seals, walruses, polar bears, fjords, Monaco Glacier and more. Eastern Svalbard is more barren and characteristically “High Arctic” than any other spot visited from the ship.

The 618-square-foot Grand Suite on Silver Explorer
The 618-square-foot Grand Suite on Silver Explorer

Silversea Expeditions’ guests can explore Viking heritage in Greenland and Iceland, explore Svalbard where polar bears roam, hike and head out on Zodiacs to see icebergs, birds, tundra and whales. Several of Silver Explorer’s Arctic voyages this summer still have availability and on June 30, 2017, Silver Explorer operates a 12-day itinerary from Reykjavik, Iceland to Longyearbyen/Oslo, Norway. Fares start at $10,550 per person double and $9,495 per person double with early booking savings. Silver Cloud will join the Silversea expedition fleet in November 2017 after being converted into an ice-class ship. It will offer five dining options, carry 18 Zodiacs and serve 200 guests on Arctic and Antarctic itineraries.

Also on the luxury side, Crystal Cruises, which operates Northwest Passage and North Cape voyages, is building a new polar class mega-yacht, launching in fall 2019. Measuring 600 feet long, the 25,000-grt Crystal Endeavor will feature 100 guest suites.  

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ expedition ship, Hanseatic, exited a three-week dry dock last fall. The vessel now has environmentally friendly stabilizers and runs on biopetroleum. In addition, carpeting also was replaced and 240 new photos of the nature and animals of the Arctic, Antarctica and Africa by famed photographer Michael Poliza now hang in staterooms and public areas. Hanseatic — which carries the highest “ice class” — will sail the Northeast Passage atop Russia this year; the route remains a great seafaring challenge.

New collaborations are also in the offing. Small ship expedition operator, Adventure Canada, which has numerous Arctic sailings this year, has inked a new partnership with Nikon, allowing guests to try out Nikon’s latest cameras, lenses and gear on their cruise. Polar operators International Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions are collaborating with The Nature Conservancy on a three-year program to raise eco-awareness. Conservancy scientists/staffers will sail on relevant expeditions and a portion of the trip cost will fund Conservancy programs.

Other expedition companies and even more traditional lines also sail to the Arctic. Here are just a few of the upcoming offerings.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 15-night “Journey to the Arctic – Dublin to Reykjavik” cruise on Seven Seas Voyager includes many destinations in Greenland, including Prince Kristian Fjord, Nuuk, Paamiut and Qaqortoq, among others; it departs June 26 from Dublin, Ireland, to Reykjavik, Iceland.

Sailing a 14-night “Spitzbergen – Beyond North Cape” itinerary on June 13 is Costa Cruises’ Costa neoRomantica.

On May 21, 2016 and May 27, 2017, Holland America Line’s Rotterdam sails a 14-night “North Cape Cruise” featuring Alesund, Bergen, Flam, Geiranger, Geiranger Fjord, Hammerfest, North Cape (Honningsvag), Rotterdam, Sognefjord, Stavanger and Trondheim.

Agent Advice

While most cruise operators offer trips when the climate and weather are expected to be optimal, “Mother Nature is ultimately in charge,” says Sheri Mruz, Directions Luxury Travel LLC in Ocala, FL. She urges her clients to pack the right gear, noting that there are endless resources and packing lists available. She cites a quote by Ranulph Fiennes: “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

Mruz also says that clients should expect an interesting flight schedule. “These trips often require flights into places like Longyearbyen, Norway or remote areas in South America, and Delta isn’t going to offer three flight options every day, so be flexible,” she stresses. In addition, she recommends clients bring a really good camera and back-up SIM cards.

“A trip to the Arctic will include much in the way of cultural immersion,” says Steve Faber, CruiseOne franchise owner and vacation specialist in San Rafael, CA. “These trips are both ideal for those seeking enrichment, filling their bucket lists, and generally older folks who are young at heart.”

A visit to Antarctica, he adds, “will concentrate to a great extent on [relatively] modern science, as human presence began in earnest in the 20th century, making the main story — besides the animal interactions — what Antarctica has taught us about the origins, development and geology of our planet.”

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